Actor and collector Cheech Marin’s long-awaited art center in Riverside, Calif., Has appointed María Esther Fernández as its inaugural artistic director. It will debut at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture in August.
Fernández was most recently chief curator and deputy director of the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, California, which focuses on Bay Area artists. She often focused on Chicanx artists.
In a statement, Marin said, “Esther brings a wealth of experience and expertise in the history of Chicano art that aligns well with The Cheech. I look forward to supporting her in this integral leadership role as Artistic Director, which will shape our strategic curatorial and programming vision for years to come.
The center, known as Cheech for short, is run by the Riverside Art Museum and is now slated to open on May 8, 2022. (Its opening was originally scheduled for 2021, but has been delayed due to the pandemic.) It will spotlight the artists of Chicanx, with a first donation of seeds from Marin’s collection, and its opening presentations will include a solo exhibition by brothers Einar and Jamex De La Torre.
In an interview with ARTnews, Fernández said, “In developing innovative programs and new scholarships, we can fill in the gaps in American history and broaden our understanding of what Chicanx art is and can be.”
She continued, “It’s an incredible responsibility and opportunity to engage in dialogue and try to reflect the complexity of Chicanx art and rethink the way we work in this model of a museum that sometimes does not serve our community. The Chicanx community is historically very marginalized compared to traditional museums.
Fernández was born in Chicago and raised in Inglewood, Calif. In the 80s and early 90s. She attended the University of California at Berkeley, where she received a bachelor’s degree in chicana / o studies and ethnic studies. , which she said gave her the “essential framework for understanding inequalities and how communities are disenfranchised”. At Berkeley, Fernández has also been mentored by artists who have been active since the beginning of the Chicano movement, including Celia Herrera Rodriguez and Yolanda Lopez. After college, Fernández was hired as education curator at Triton. She then joined the conservation department and eventually rose to the position of Chief Curator, which she held from 2017 to 2020.
Among the exhibitions she has organized at the Triton, we can mention the solo exhibition of Consuelo Jimenez Underwood in 2013 and “Xicana: Spiritual Reflections / Reflexiónes Espirituales” in 2010. With Carlos Jackson and Susy Zepeda, she co-organized the exhibition 2019 “Xicanx Futurity” at the Manetti Shrem Art Museum at UC Davis. She is currently working with Laura E. Pérez to organize an Amalia Mesa-Bains retrospective for the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, scheduled to open in 2023.
Fernández said she hopes to make Cheech a community-focused hub, with spaces like Self Help Graphics in LA’s Boyle Heights neighborhood and Galería de la Raza in San Francisco’s Mission District serving as role models. “Chicanx art means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” she said. “Our community is complex and Chicanx art is often presented as a monolith from the Chicano movement. He evolved and grew. The Cheech Center should be a place to have this dialogue.